Lawyer quit case when I refused low settlement, but now won't release lien?

by Jay
(Chicago, Illinois)

I was rear ended. I have and still continue to have considerable neck and shoulder pain. Attending doctor has written that I will suffer with this for the rest of my life. My lawyer is related to me through marriage and agreed to take the case for 25% contingency. He also advised me to pay all medical bills out of pocket, which I did.

I have about $12,000 in medical bills and have dealt with this pain for over a year. After months of no communication with my lawyer (no returned calls, or emails), I called and left a nasty message. Lawyer called me back with a settlement offer of $8,000. I refused it, he got mad, and fired off an email to me and the insurance company we were going after saying he quits the case.

I then called the adjustor myself and got an offer of $12,000 in a 20 minute phone call (still low, but she insist that's the best they will do... I know). BUT, my old lawyer still has his attorney charge lien on the case and refuses to take it off.

He is demanding a cashiers check for $2500.00 to remove the lien (25% of the original settlement offer plus $500.00 for fees). My question is this: Since he quit the case, does he retain the right to a lien? Plus he obviously did not represent my best interests if I could increase the settlement by 25% in a 20 minute phone call. What can I do?

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Lawyer quit case when I refused low settlement, but now won't release lien?":

Jay (Chicago, Illinois):

Unfortunately, you are likely bound by the contract you signed when you first retained the attorney. Before going any further, take a hard look at the contract. It may bind you to the 25% fee regardless of whether or not you terminate the attorney’s services.

Moreover, you can be quite sure, if and when the insurance company issues a check to you, it will be made payable to your attorney and to you. Insurance companies don't like to get involved in personal squabbles between attorneys and their clients.

From the facts you present, the filing of a complaint against the attorney will likely fail. Unless you can prove he committed a violation of the attorney's ethical code, your complaint will likely be summarily dismissed. Bar Associations also do not like to get involved in personal squabbles between attorneys and their clients, especially over contract issues.

What you have is a contract dispute. The only way you are likely to receive any settlement is to negotiate a contract settlement with your attorney. It appears you have already told your attorney you were able to secure a higher settlement. Thereafter it appears he only requests you pay him 25% of the amount he negotiated for you.

Consider asking the attorney to reduce his fee to 15%. You can be sure, a little less money now is much better than a long and protracted disagreement.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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